The first-ever vaccine against dengue fever, which kills more than five thousand Indians every year, will be publicly available for the first time after being cleared for use in Mexico, French manufacturer Sanofi said on Wednesday.
“It’s a very important moment in the history of public health,” Olivier Charmeil, head of the company’s vaccines division, told AFP, describing Dengvaxia as the “innovation of the decade”.
It took 20 years and more than $1.6 billion -- around Rs 10,500 crore -- in research and development to create the vaccine named Dengvaxia.
Dengue, also known as ‘breakbone fever’ because of excruciating joint pain and pounding headaches, is caused by the female aedes mosquito.
Till now, the disease had no vaccine or specific treatment and a severe form of dengue often turns fatal, mainly due to internal bleeding, shock and organ failure.
This year, nearly 85,000 dengue cases were reported across India with more than 15,000 affected in national capital Delhi alone.
Delhi also saw 38 dengue deaths till November, according to official data, the highest number of cases the capital has seen in nearly two decades.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says dengue has become the fastest-growing mosquito-borne disease, with as many as 400 million people infected every year across the world. The deadliest form of the disease kills 22,000 people per year, the WHO says.
It can trigger a crippling fever, along with muscle and joint pain.
Dengue was once considered a disease of the tropics endemic in only nine countries. But globalisation, urbanisation, climate change and jet travel are helping it to move into more temperate zones and it is now endemic in more than 100 countries.
The WHO says cases have risen 30-fold over the last 50 years, and more than half of the world’s population is at risk from the disease.
Sanofi Pasteur has requested authorisation to roll out the vaccine in 20 countries.
“We are waiting for more registrations in Asia and Latin America in the coming weeks,” said Charmeil.
Several million doses of the vaccine are ready to ship, and Sanofi expects annual production to reach 100 million doses by 2017.
Clinical tests -- carried out on 40,000 people from 15 countries -- have found that Dengvaxia can immunise two-thirds of people aged nine years and older, rising to 93%t for the more severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever.
It was also found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation by 80%.
However, Sanofi said that Mexico had approved Dengvaxia only for patients aged 9 to 45 who live in areas where the disease is endemic.
This means the world’s first dengue vaccine has no approval yet for use on young children, a population considered to be most at risk, or for use by tourists.
Guillaume Leroy, who leads the dengue team at Sanofi Pasteur, said that additional data over the coming years would be needed to assess whether the vaccine may be of use to travellers.
The WHO has a target in some 128 countries to reduce dengue mortality by 50% and infections by 25% by 2020, using 2010 as the baseline.